#TBT: Catching up with Mike Maurer

By: Santino Filoso

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Our guest today is former Ottawa Renegade FB Mike Maurer. Maurer, a Saskatoon native, was selected from BC by the Renegades in their 2002 expansion draft, and went on to start 44 games during his time in Ottawa. Known for being a bruising back with a penchant for laying devastating blocks, the two time winning Grey Cup champion (2000 and 2005) enjoyed a stand out 13 year career in the CFL and finished in a tie for second place on the CFL’s career special teams tackles list.

Before breaking into the CFL, you served in the Canadian Forces, tell us about that experience.

At the time, I thought that might be my career path, as I chose not to play football after graduating high school. Being in the military taught  me valuable lessons; how to work hard, be a team player, self discipline, what it means to be mentally tough, and to be part of and do something greater than myself.

What was your initial reaction when you found out that you’d been selected by the Renegades in their expansion draft?

A little disbelief but lots of excitement at the same time. The Lions weren’t offering a very flattering contract extension, so with Ottawa selecting me that early it meant I was wanted and valued, and that felt great.

During your time in Ottawa you often were the lead blocker for Josh Ranek, who was nicknamed “The Little Ball of Hate”. As a FB why did you enjoy blocking for a guy like that?

Josh is an unbelievable guy, someone I’m still good friends with to this day. Josh also exemplifies what it is to be a professional athlete – the first one in the building and last one to leave. For those reasons, it was easy for me and everyone on offense to block for him because he worked so hard and wanted the team to be successful so badly.

The only rushing TD of your career came while you were on the Renegades, talk us through that play.

To be honest I don’t remember the play too much, it’s in the books as a run but I actually think it was a fumble recovery. We were on the goal line and I blocked my man into the end zone and was looking over my shoulder to watch Darren Davis run in, but the ball popped onto the ground and I just jumped on it.

As a blocking fullback who was a dual threat on screens, what was your favourite play to run? 

In Ottawa we ran something like a bit of a shovel pass where it looked like a zone-lead play. I’d motion to the left and the tailback and QB would play-action to the left while I slipped behind the line back to the right. That’s when the QB would turn and dump it to me.  A mis-direction play like that was normally good for a solid gain, especially if we’d been running the ball well throughout the game.

Joe Paopao is often credited with keeping the Renegades team very close, even through challenging and difficult times. What did you most respect about him as a coach?

It’s always beneficial for a coach when he’s actually been a player himself, because when he’s coaching the guys know he’s walked in their shoes. Joe wore his heart on his sleeve, and he had such passion for the game.  He was always coming up with activities for the team to do together, and he knew how to treat his players. I don’t think I could pick one thing but he really knew how to get the players to go to war for him and leave it all out there on the field in a way I haven’t seen from anyone else.

In 2005, you were a member of the Eskimos and played in what I consider to be one of the best Grey Cups in CFL history. You were named the Most Valuable Canadian for your role in the victory. Looking back now, what sticks with you about that game?

I recently watched the game for the first time since 2005.  What struck me while I was watching it was that it felt like I was watching the wrong game. When I played I was never a scoreboard watcher, so it felt wrong seeing the score with Montreal being ahead for so much of it. During the game it felt like we had it all under control and had all the confidence in the world, as if the final result was a foregone conclusion. I was so surprised watching it again to see we were the ones to come from behind and tie to send it into overtime. It just didn’t have that feeling.

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What was the biggest hit you ever gave or received?

I know I’ve had my fair share of big hits dealt: some special teams blind-sides and as a FB burying a guy or knocking guys clean off their feet on a peel-back or downfield hit. But I specifically remember a few times where I got blown up: Fred Perry got me on kickoff cover and I didn’t see him coming and he ear holed me pretty good. I essentially did a cartwheel, but I did get up immediately and still got in on the tackle. The other was while I was with Edmonton and I ran a shallow pattern into the flat, Ricky Ray shouldn’t have thrown me the ball since there was a corner sitting in the zone but he did. I caught the pass and the split second I turned my head the DB hit me in the chin with his crown and the first thing that hit the ground was my head. I believe it was dubbed the hit of the year on TSN.

Over the course of your career you racked up 168 special teams tackles. What’s the trick to bringing down a dangerous returner?

You know if I had known I was that close to the all-time record which I think was 182 or something I would have played another season to be #1. I was a tailback early in my career, and my aggressiveness matched just about anyone. I suppose my aggressiveness plus being given the opportunity to make tackles, combined with the reckless abandon of not caring what happened to my body, was the recipe.

In your opinion, which stadium has the best hecklers?

Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Montreal and Hamilton were all tough places to play. That being said, it’s got to be Saskatchewan or Hamilton though I’d probably put Hamilton #1 because it seemed like the fans were so close to the field, they seemed right on top of you.

After retiring following the 2007 season, late in 2008 and then again in 2009 you came out of retirement to play a few more games. What led to those decisions?

My daughters got to an age where they’d often voice their opinion of me playing away from home, so that’s how I knew it was time to hang them up. As for me coming out of retirement, it was something that kind of caught everyone by surprise, but I felt a strong allegiance to Edmonton as they’d treated me so well. In 2008 they asked if I wanted to be part of a playoff push and since it only ended up being the last 4 games of regular season and 2 playoff ones, I wasn’t gone from home for too long  Then in 2009, right before the Labour Day home and away with Calgary, Edmonton was hit with the injury bug.  I think 3 or 4 Canadian backs were hurt and they needed someone that could come in and start on offense. There wasn’t really any players out there that could’ve walk in off the street to start so I decided to come back again. The tricky part about 2009 was that the offensive terminology was different, so Ricky Ray would call the play in the huddle, then as we broke and walked to the line he’d call the play again as we used to call it in the past, just for me to understand. Looking back it’s pretty funny, thankfully Ricky Ray was a great QB to play with and he helped me a lot. After that stint I realized I needed to stay retired, I’d escaped my career without major injury and wanted to stay keep things that way.

How would you characterize yourself as a player and did you have anyone you tried to model your game after?

As a player all I wanted to do was leave it all out on the field, every play, every game. I looked at every play as a street fight where I needed to win my 1-on-1 battle.  So in a few words I’d like to think of myself as a tough, hard-nosed guy that gave everything he had every play, regardless of the score.  I tried to be the best version of myself, and tried to take what I had and make the most of it.

Why did you wear #19?

It stuck because after I made the team with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the media told me I was the first person to make the team after being assigned #19 in over a decade.  I thought maybe that was good luck sign so I kept it. Also, back then it was an oddball number and I enjoyed being different.

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What was your typical pre-game meal?

It was pretty much always a chicken breast, pasta and fresh vegetables and fruit.

In the 2006 off-season you made headlines when you debuted in the Maximum Fighting Championship. How did that come about?

Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu were part of my offseason training and I enjoyed the sport, it was a great hobby that I still train in and don’t consider myself retired from it at all.  During an interview I mentioned that I trained and had the desire to compete and Mark Pavelich, who was with the Maximum Fighting Championship, heard that and approached me.

Tell me thing that the average CFL fan doesn’t know about you.

I’m a board game geek.  My idea of a fun night would be to have family or friends over to play some games. Strategy games like the Game of Thrones board game, Spartacus, Ticket to Ride, Agricola, Pandemic, Kingsburg, Last Night on Earth, and Red Dragon Inn are my favourites.  I probably have in the neighbourhood of 50 games that I like to play depending on my mood or the group I’m with.

What are you doing for work nowadays?

In the past I’ve worked as a childcare worker at a treatment centre for youth at risk, and applied at the Police and Fire departments, but have settled into what is essentially a sales rep job with Corix Water Products. They’re a North American distributor of water and wastewater products like pipe, valves, fittings, and so on. I also own a tree cutting company called Wolverine Tree Services.

Do you still keep in touch with a lot of your former teammates? If so, who?

I still see Josh Ranek once or twice a year, we’re quite close. Mike Abou-Mechrek lives a few blocks away and I still chat with Dan Farthing and Dan Rashovich. I’m just starting to get involved with alumni associations and am looking forward to reconnecting with a lot of past teammates, many of whom I consider to be brothers.

Coach Kani Kauahi Ottawa Renegades. Photo Scott Grant

Thanks so much for your time Mike and all the best!

@RedBlackGade

– Images via Scott Grant Photography and Google

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Redblacks Waste No Time In Improving

By: Santino Filoso

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Just over 24 hours into free agency and the Redblacks off-season can already be declared a smashing success. Ottawa had some major roster holes to fill following a disappointing 2-16 season and four key signings by GM Marcel Desjardins should go a long way to reassure R-Nation that 2015 will indeed be a much better year on the field for the Redblacks.

The process of overhauling the offence began with the firing of Mike Gibson and the hiring of Jason Maas to replace him, along with a trade that sent LB Jasper Simmons, the Redblacks 2014 MOP (Most Outstanding Player) to Calgary for established veteran WR Maurice Price. The offensive retooling continued yesterday with the signings of a trio of 6 foot plus WRs; Ernest Jackson (International), Brad Sinopoli (National) and Greg Ellingson (International).

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“Once the ball goes up in the air, I’m going to go up and get it,” – Ernest Jackson

The 28 year old, 6’2”, 220 pound Jackson spent the last three season with the BC Lions and had a break out season in 2014, catching 49 passes for 813 yards, 3 TDs, averaging 16.6 yards per catch. The Redblacks got a good look at Jackson up close and personal in Week 16 when he torched Ottawa’s secondary for 195 yards and a TD in the Lions 41-3 blow out win.

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Hmmm, a Canadian QB in Ottawa wearing 12 eh…

R-Nation is already quite familiar with Brad Sinopoli as the 26 year old Peterborough native played QB at the University of Ottawa, winning the Hec Crighton Trophy as the most outstanding CIS football player in 2010. After being drafted by the Stampeders in the 4th round of the 2011 draft, Sinopoli spent two seasons as their 3rd string quarterback before making the difficult transition from QB to WR. Last year the 6’4”, 215 pound Sinopoli started 12 games for Calgary, making 20 catches for 197 yards and scoring 2 TDs.

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Before being injured in 2013, Ellingson was in conversation for CFL Rookie of the Year

QB Henry Burris should already have some level of familiarity with the 6’3”, 197 pound Greg Ellingson as they spent the 2013 season together playing with the Ticats. Ellingson was buried on Hamilton’s depth chart after struggling with injuries for much of the last two seasons, but despite missing time last year, Ellingson still managed decent numbers, making 32 catches for 429 yards.

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SirVincent Rogers, I knight thee a defender of the R

Not only will the Redblacks now have better players on the receiving end of passes, but the guys throwing them the ball should have more time too, thanks to the addition of the 6’4”, 319 pound SirVincent Rogers. With a pedigree almost as interesting as his name, Rogers spent the last two years protecting Ricky Ray’s blind side. Before coming up to the CFL, Rogers spent 2012 in the AFL, winning the AFL championship and playing offensive line and tight end for the Arizona Rattlers. As a TE he made 5 catches for 129 yards and 2 TDs so maybe when Jason Maas digs into his bag of trick plays we’ll see SirVincent catching some passes at TD Place.

In 2014 the Redblacks had over 45 dropped passes and many were drive and momentum killers. With the addition of Jackson, Sinopoli and Ellingson through free agency and the acquiring of Price through trade, Ottawa’s receiving corps has seemingly gone from a glaring weakness to a strength. New OL Coach Bryan Chiu now has an extremely large and talented Rogers to work with and their familiarity from their time together in Toronto with the Argos is an added benefit. When you factor in that most of the top prospects in the CFL draft are offensive lineman and that Ottawa holds the #1 overall pick, the two positions that the Redblacks really couldn’t count on last season suddenly look much better.

On another level, as a Redblacks fan you can’t help but smile seeing Desjardins come out of the gate swinging. His aggressiveness in pursuing free agents and improving the team is one that many Ottawa Senators fans wished their GM would show. The contrast between Jeff Hunt and OSEG’s commitment to fielding a winning and competitive team is never more evident than when one looks at the Sens and Eugene Melynk’s cheap ways.

At this point in time I don’t see the Redblacks making any more big signings, other than perhaps a few depth guys, maybe at QB, RB or LB. It’s also worth noting that Ottawa officially lost one of their own free agents when OL Alex “Truckstick” Krausnick signed the Eskimos. One year after being selected by the Redblacks in their expansion draft, Krausnick wasted no time in returning to Edmonton.

Let us know what you think about the Redblacks free agency moves so far in the comments below.

@RedBlackGade

Game #2: Green & Gold leave Redblacks seeing red

By: Santino Filoso

 

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On Friday night, the Ottawa Redblacks attempted to be the first Ottawa team to get a win at Commonwealth Stadium since August 26th, 1983 and to end a streak of 18 straight losses (spanning the Rough Riders and Renegades) in Edmonton.

Pre-Game:

– No TSN pre-game show to speak of, due to a sloppy, flag-filled affair (that seemingly dragged on forever) taking place in Montreal between the Als and the Bombers

1st Quarter:

– Redblacks receive the opening kickoff but quickly go two and out after a short Chevon Walker (#29) run and a Henry Burris (#1) sack

– On the ensuing punt the Redblacks give up a huge return that is luckily negated by an Eskimo holding penalty

– Eskimo QB Mike Reilly goes for the throat on the Esks’ first play, launching a deep bomb but overthrowing an open Fred Stamps

– Redblacks go two and out, Eskimos go two and out,  Redblacks go two and out, Eskimos go two and out,  Redblacks go two and out, Eskimos go two and out,  Redblacks go two and out, Eskimos go two and out,  Redblacks go two and out, Eskimos go two and out,  Redblacks go two and out, Eskimos go two and out,  Redblacks go two and out, Eskimos go two and out,  Redblacks go two and out, Eskimos go two and out,  Redblacks go two and out, Eskimos go two and out,  Redblacks go two and out, Eskimos go two and out,  Redblacks go two and out, Eskimos go two and out,  Redblacks go two and out (or at least that’s what it feels like)

– Smothering defense and overthrowing receivers seems to be the theme for both teams so far

– 1st round pick Antoine Pruneau (#6) makes his presence felt with a heavy special teams tackle

– After finally stringing together a few first downs thanks to a Walker shovel pass and a Matt Carter (#85) catch, the Redblacks’ drive stalls

Chevon Walker, Dexter McCoil, Rennie Curran
Stingy Eskimo defense

– For the 2nd week in a row the Redblacks try to run a fake field goal with backup QB Thomas DeMarco (#17) but are thwarted by a timely Eskimo timeout.

– Eskimos match the Redblacks drive with one of their own and open the scoring with a 52 yard rouge courtesy of kicker/punter Grant Shaw

– The Sens trail the Oilers 1-0 after the 1st

2nd Quarter:

– Teams continue to trade two and outs to start the 2nd

– Redblacks returner Jamill Smith (#15) will have a restless night after he finds a lane, has nothing but open field in front of him but steps out of bounds on the sideline

– Burris gets sacked

– Kicker Brett Maher makes a beautiful 48 yard punt that is returned 23 yards after the Redblacks miss numerous tackles

– After a 15 yard catch by FB Patrick Lavoie (#81), RB Walker explodes for a 65 yard TD scamper behind a massive block from FB John Delahunt (#49)

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Walker celebrating his 3rd TD of the year

– Henry² (Marcus Henry #16) looks good making a 17 yard catch but Redblacks ultimately punt

– Reilly leads the Eskimos on a long drive and into field goal range to end the half but Shaw shanks the 23 yarder through the end zone for a redemption rouge

7-1 Germany over Brazil 7-2 Redblacks over the Esks at the half

3rd Quarter: 

– Eskimos make it look easy as they march down the field and score on their opening possession; Adarius Bowman hauls in a 41 yard pass and dances around safety Eric Fraser (#7) to score. Adding insult to injury the Redblacks are flagged for roughing the passer which is tacked onto the kick off, which Grant boots through the end zone for a single.

– Redblacks don’t miss a beat and continue their 1st half trend of two and outs

– Defensive lineman Brandon Lang (#91) goes offside and gets flagged for the 3rd time

– Reilly gets sacked by Zack Evans (#92) and Shaw extends the Esks lead to 11-7 with a 47 punt yard for another rouge

– Paris Jackson’s (#19) first catch of the night beats the blitz and picks up a 1st down

– Maher smashes a 52 yard punt that bounces out of bounds at the Eskimo’s 3 yard line

– Heavy pressure on 2nd down gives the Redblacks a big two and out

– Instead of following conventional wisdom and conceding a safety, the Esks decide to punt, which Smith fields and returns into field goal range

– A promising drive is snuffed out when Burris gets sacked for the 3rd time

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– Esks are rewarded for ignoring conventional wisdom when Maher pushes a 36 yard field goal wide right for a rouge

– Redblacks trail by 3 heading into the 4th (11-8)

4th Quarter:

– Adarius Bowman caps off a 5 play, 75 yard drive with his 2nd TD of the night, making an incredible 30 yard, one handed catch despite having Jovon Johnson (#2) draped all over him.

– Redblacks turn the ball over on downs after failing to convert a 3rd and inches on their own 25. Head Coach Rick Campbell challenges the spot of the ball (which seemed to be poor) and loses

– A 2nd down Brandon Lang sack is inexplicably wiped out when the referee forgets that contact IS allowed in football and flags him for roughing the passer

– The drive kept alive, Reilly hits a wide open Bowman (his 3rd TD of the night), to make it 25-8 with 9:15 left

– Catches by Kierrie Johnson (#10), Carlton Mitchell (#88), and Henry², bring the Redblacks into FG range. Following another Burris sack, Maher splits the uprights from 34 yards out to make it 25-11

– Eskimos RB John White explodes for 34 yards on a 2nd and long draw

– Feeling guilty, the umpire tries to atone for the earlier blown call

– Shaw absolutely crushes a 64 yard punt, pinning the Redblacks on their 1 yard line

– Facing heavy pressure the offensive line collapses and Burris is sacked for a safety, the Eskimo’s 5th sack of the night

– With 1:11 left in the game, DeMarco enters for mop up duty and hits Carter and Jackson for long gains before being picked off on the final play of the game

– Final score: 27-11 for the team not wearing red and black

Stats that stand out:

– Burris went 13/25 for 114 yards (0 TDs or Ints)

– Walker had 10 carries for 92 yards and a TD

– Johnson was the leading receiver with 4 catches for 28 yards

– 11 penalties for 118 yards

Closing thoughts:

If the Redblacks Week One loss left fans feeling hopeful and entertained, this week’s was surely the opposite. It’s frustrating because once again the Redblacks shot themselves in the foot by taking way too many penalties. The game was a defensive struggle for the better part of three quarters and the offense struggled to move the ball with any kind of rhythm. Burris needs to be better but no receiver stood out either. Too often it seemed that when the Redblacks receivers ran option routes they weren’t on the same page as Burris. They clearly need more time to work out the kinks and get comfortable with one another. As for the offensive line, they aren’t going to enjoy film study on Monday as they were thoroughly outplayed by the Esks’ front seven, giving up five sacks and failing to open up holes for Walker to run though. On the defensive side the Redblacks struggled to put Reilly under any kind of sustained pressure, even when blitzing. Though special teams coverage was better overall, there continued to be ugly moments that flipped field position, a back-breaker in defensive struggles like this game.

Despite their struggles, the Redblacks were in this game until early in the 4th. The turning point was absolutely the blown call on Lang’s CLEAN sack but there are other plays that stand out, such as Smith stepping out of bounds on a punt return that seemed destined to  be a TD and getting stuffed on 3rd and inches. As Coach Campbell said after the game:

“It’s disappointing. It was a defensive game for a long time and going back and forth and we were hanging in there. We just came up a few plays short. It’s always tough to lose.”

To sum up, though the Redblacks don’t want to be called an expansion team, they’re still the new kids on the block and are going to take their lumps. This game was ugly but with their next game at home in front of a feverish R-Nation, the Redblacks should be able to draw on the crowd’s energy for a better effort and hopefully a win. See you at Lansdowne (TD Place) next week!

@RedBlackGade

Photos courtesy of Ottawa Redblacks Facebook page